‘Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express’: Omaha Community Playhouse invites us aboard

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James Knowles
A&E EDITOR

The gathered ensemble in a moment of suspense. Photo courtesy of Robertson Photography.

The preview showing of “Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express” kicked off what looks to be a great run at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The play is a stage adaptation of perhaps the most famous novel by esteemed writer Agatha Christie. The most basic synopsis is in the name—there is a murder on a train called “the Orient Express” that requires solving by the iconic detective Hercule Poirot (played by Seth Maisel). An eclectic cast of characters and oh-so-many clues point blame in every direction, and by the final bow, a truly stunning conclusion is reached.

The labyrinthine tale was adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig, an acclaimed playwright and Omaha Community Playhouse favorite—the playhouse opened their season with “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” a Ludwig original—and directed by Anthony “CK” Clark-Kaczmarek, a creative who’s been integral to the region’s stage community for over 25 years.

For as much talent as they bring to the table, it’s still Agatha Christie’s show, as acknowledged by the title and proven by the ensuing production. Twists, turns and musings on the nature of justice pervade a tale that is as wise as it is clever—many gasps rose from the audience at the preview showing. For those who have already read, heard or seen how the mystery plays out, many occurrences throughout the story take on new dimensions upon this subsequent viewing, and although this is usually the case when one returns to a murder-mystery story, no one pulls it off like Christie.

A murder most foul! Photo courtesy of Robertson Photography.

The tale leaves the audience with a central dilemma, and while the production is a little overbearing in hammering it home, Christie, Poirot and co. pose a question that could never be answered as certainly as each solved clue, and will stick with every audience member long after the curtain falls.

The story itself is perfect for the stage, with the majority of its runtime taking place aboard one train, and a cast of characters inherently limited to a tight ensemble. The performances of said ensemble range from sufficient to enthralling—particular standouts include Seth Maisel, who brings jolly charm and potent intensity to Hercule Poirot; Connie Lee, who portrays Helen Hubbard with wit, bluster and many layers; and Ethan Dragon, who, apart from having an incredible last name, gave an entertaining performance as Monsieur Bouc, the charming, perpetually aggravated showrunner of the railway.

Hercule Poirot (Seth Maisel) examines the evidence, accompanied by Countess Andrenyi (Jennifer Gilg) and Monsieur Bouc (Ethan Dragon). Photo courtesy of Robertson Photography.

For as seriously as the show takes its titular murder, it offers much humor through its cast, who elicit laughter through spot-on delivery, as well as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments of reaction even when they’re not the moment’s focus. Although subsequent audiences might not be lucky, almost every instance of humor in the preview showing was accentuated by the booming laughter of a particularly entertained audience member in the balcony.

For the more visually oriented viewers, the production is bookended by interesting and vaires sets at the start, and an enthralling usage of lighting and even a bit of choreography at the close—throughout the middle chunk, the repetitiveness of the traincar sets is allayed by interesting framing of the cast.

Helen Hubbard (Connie Lee) harangues Michel the conductor (Jay Srygley) at the train station in Istanbul. Photo courtesy of Robertson Photography.

Within the sights, humor and drama of “Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express,” there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re in it for the tight plot and careful mystery, or if you just want to see the “funny little Belgian man” with a killer mustache do his thing, you have reason enough to hop aboard the Orient Express.

“Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express” will show at the Omaha Community Playhouse from Wednesday to Sunday every week until Oct.10, 2021. Tickets are currently available for purchase by phone at (402) 553-0800, online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or in person at the OCP Box Office.

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